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Take Back Control of Your Inbox

By Carmen Coker 

"Email is a system that delivers other people's priorities to your attention. It's up to you to decide when that priority should be managed into your world. It's not the other way around." ~ Chris Brogan

There was a time when I would sit down in the morning to open my email and I would cringe a little, afraid to look at all the new messages piling into my Inbox already crammed full of messages I hadn't yet had time, or courage, to get to.

Overwhelmed? Oh, yes! A large percentage of the email we see on a daily basis is irrelevant, and the accumulation of it leads us down a slippery slope of distraction that definitely hampers our productivity.

Keeping your inbox organized and clutter-free isn't an impossible goal, however. I've created a system that helped me organize my email and I'll share the best parts of it here with you today. Start with a healthy dose of discipline, create and stick to a filing and organization system like I'm sharing with you here, and you'll quickly take back control of your own Inbox.

1. Create a filing system: This is great for organizing emails you receive on a regular basis that center around common subjects. Be diligent and file or label these emails daily as you receive them for this to work.

a. Create folders for businesses, people or subjects that you receive frequent emails about and file those emails to their proper place immediately. This is a lifesaver and probably one of the best organizing ideas you can implement.

b. Labels (Gmail) or Categories (Outlook) are also excellent ways of grouping emails concerning similar subject together for easy searching and reference later on.

2. Get rid of clutter: Take a look at all the newsletters and commerce emails you receive - I bet there are quite a few.

a. Unwanted emails: If you are on lists that you did not sign up for, these are the first to go (keep reading for specific directions).

b. Next, look at the ones that you've been a long-time subscriber to. Are they still all pertinent to your life? Do you even read them anymore? A good rule of thumb is if you haven't opened them for a month or two, then they aren't worth keeping. Remove yourself from these as well.

c. HOW TO: An effective way to cancel your subscriptions or remove your email from unwanted lists is to use the "Manage Subscription" or "Unsubscribe" links usually located at the end of the message. Don't waste your time by directly replying with "unsubscribe" or rude comments to the unwanted email - it rarely works as those addresses are often not monitored.

3. Don't be afraid to delete: Read your e-mail as time permits and then delete any correspondence that doesn't have content worth keeping for future reference. Then, empty your trash daily.

4. Prioritize, take action, then file or delete. As you read your emails in the morning, make use of the prioritizing system your email system provides. This can be flags, tasks or even using a free secondary system such as Nudgemail.com that will prioritize emails according to a date you designate and send them back to you at that requested time as reminders. Once you've completed the action required for that email, file or delete it. Don't let it sit stagnant in your Inbox, remember we're uncluttering here.

The above tips when practiced daily will make a world of difference in keeping your Inbox organized and clutter free. Just a bit of discipline is all it takes to be on the road to less time spent dealing with e-mail and more time for other things ... like paying attention to your family or your business, or even the occasional girls happy hour. You know, the important stuff.


Great advice as always Carmen! Rather than flood her inbox with thank-you's, we suggest everyone give Carmen's article a cheer below. And if you're looking for emails worth getting (not to mention worth 15% off your next purchase, sign up for FranklinCovey emails here. 

Carmen Coker is a former U.S. Air Force officer turned professional organizer and productivity expert. She provides organizing resources for small business at OrganizedEntrepreneur.com and for home life at OrganizeClutterbugs.com.

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